Tag Archive for helicopter parent

Are You Hindering Your Children’s Growth?

Every parent strives to keep their children safe and healthy. I know I do. We want to provide opportunities for our children to make friends, try new things, and grow. But, many well-intentioned parents cross the line from providing and encouraging to hovering and controlling. Parents often cross this line accidentally, unknowing even, and in response to fears, anxieties, or sensitivities. When that line is crossed, our children suffer. Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, completed a study following 422 children over an 8-year period. Her team assessed the children at ages 2, 5, and 10. The assessments included observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses, and self-reports from the 10-year-olds. When parents were assessed as hovering (aka, “helicopter parents”), the children were more likely to develop emotional and behavioral regulation difficulties. The inability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors contributed to poorer social skills as well.  What did a “hovering” parent do while interacting with their children? What made them “hovering” parents (3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent)? Well, rather than letting their children pick out a toy and play, “hovering” parents told their children what to play with and how to play with it. For instance, they might take over the controls for the video game to show their child how to complete a level, leaving their child to sit passively by and watch. Or, they might explain that tree leaves are green, not purple, and expect the child to color them green because that is more accurate. It’s all done to teach…but it interferes with their children’s opportunities to explore, learn from mistakes, and “think independently.”  Hovering parents also told their children how to clean up rather than simply encouraging their children to clean up (or better yet clean up with them). They often exhibited strict or demanding behaviors during play interactions, such as demanding the play proceed in a certain order rather than following their children’s lead or negotiating. Compared to children of parents who did not hover, children of “hovering” parents exhibited difficulties self-regulating emotions and behaviors. So, what can a parent do to “not hover” and still teach? To encourage a growing ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors? Good question. Try some of these tips.

  • Talk about feelings and what behaviors might flow from various feelings. Help your children develop a vocabulary for emotions and a behavioral repertoire for managing those emotions. (Read 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend for ideas to help you do this.)
  • Follow child’s lead in play. Spend at least part of your time with children simply following their lead. Acknowledge their actions and report those actions. Doing so communicates as sense of value to your children. It also increases the likelihood that they will follow your lead as well.  So, don’t take the controller to let them watch you beat the level on the video game. Instead, let them experiment and simply report back what they did along with the results. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children describes a great way to do this!)
  • Negotiate the play. I know this sounds contradictory to the last bullet, but both are true. Sometimes we need to follow our children’s lead in play. Sometimes we need to negotiate the play with our children. Negotiating play teaches our children the skill of cooperation and compromise. It lets them learn that they don’t always get what they want…which in turn increases frustration tolerance. (Sometimes negotiation goes beyond playing. Check out 4 Benefits of Negotiating with Your Child to learn more.)  
  • Give your children chores. Teach them what needs done but allow them the freedom to achieve it in their way.  They may choose to do it the hard way.  Let them. They may take twice as long to do it. That’s ok. As long as they get the job done well, be happy.
  • Send them out to play with friends. Let them engage in unstructured, unsupervised play. They will learn amazing self-regulation skills while negotiating, compromising, and enjoying play with other children. (Give them the tools right out of Your Child’s Toolbox for Play.)
  • Set good example. Let your children see you manage anger and frustration well. Let them see you express joy and sorrow in healthy, appropriate ways. After all, our children learn best by watching us. So, set a good example. And start that example with having fun!

Through the Parenting Maze

The art of parenting has gotten lost amidst media hype and controversy. Instead of focusing on effective common sense aspects of parenting, the popular media turns our attention to the sensational and controversial. Tiger moms, free range parents, helicopter parents, attachment parents…a dizzying array of parenting styles presenting the opportunity to debate and argue, which may be great for media ratings but not so good for effective parenting. What is a parent to do?   In reality, each of these parenting styles actually has benefits; and each can have a negative impact when taken to an extreme. Take a moment with me to consider the pros and cons of each of these parenting styles.


Exhausted MomTiger Mom Parenting. Tiger moms balance high expectations with love for their children; and children tend to live up to the expectations of those who exhibit great love for them. Tiger moms teach that persistence and effort leads to success. This helps children develop a “growth oriented mindset” shown to result in persistence, effort, and resilience.

On the other hand, tiger moms can become intrusive. Their children may experience difficulty establishing an identity apart from their overinvolved and demanding parent. Children may even rebel in an effort to establish their identity apart from parental expectations and demands.


Helicopter parenting. Helicopter parents obviously love their children. They delight in their children and want them to grow into successful adults. To aid in this growth, helicopter parents maintain an awareness of their children and their children’s world, create opportunities for their children, and leverage the environment for their children’s success. This can lead to some wonderful opportunities and successes for their children.

Helicopter parents can also become intrusive. If they do not allow their children to experience failure, they rob them of the opportunity to learn persistence and resilience. By fighting their children’s battles, they rob them of the opportunity to “fight for themselves” and problem solve under pressure. In the long run, children whose parents manage their environment and time too closely will prevent their children from learning to manage their own schedule and assure their own safety.


Attachment parenting. Parents who practice attachment parenting delight in their children. They become active students of their children and their children’s world. Children of attachment parents come to see themselves as valuable, significant, and loved. They learn to talk through and resolve concerns and disagreements they might have with other people.

Taken too an extreme, attachment parenting can result in permissive parenting. Children may not have clearly defined limits reinforced by a consistent “no,” whether spoken or unspoken. Although they learn to solve problems with like-minded parents, they may experience difficulty working through the drama introduced by other children who have not learned these skills.


Free range parenting. Children who experience free range parenting learn independence. They learn creative problem solving as they experience various obstacles in their life. In addition, children of free range parents learn how to manage their safety. They learn what they can and cannot without adult help. Free range parenting also allows children to learn how to manage their own time and schedule effectively.

Free range parenting, when misapplied, can result in neglect. If parents are not aware of their children’s developmental needs and unique vulnerabilities, they can place their children at risk of harm or overwhelming failure.


Overall, we find parenting strengths in each style of parenting. We also see that any parenting style can be taken out of context and misapplied in response to our particular fears or weaknesses as a parent. Rather than getting caught up in the debate and controversy of the latest parenting fad, take the time to learn what makes each parenting style effective (whether you want to call it a balance of love and limits, rules and relationship, or structure and love). Then—whether tiger mom, helicopter parent, attachment parent, or free range parent—practice that balance with as much consistency as you can muster.

Let Your Children Experience the Joy of…Risk?

Many of my childhood memories involve risks I took and the lessons I learned from those risks. Here are some of the lessons I learned: I can only climb so high into a tree before the branches become too weak to hold me; you can only go so fast on your bike on a gravel-Fun on the ropescovered turn; throwing rocks demands great caution; do not keep your acorn collection in the house; make sure people really hear and understand when you ask to destroy their favorite washtub to make a washtub bass; you get burned playing with fire; and seriously, you need to look both ways (several times) before crossing a street. I learned these lessons in response to risks, small risks and big risks. Some of these memories involve minor injuries. Others simply involved learning an important lesson before an injury even occurred. Either way, I grew and learned from the risk.


When I became a father (a risk well worth taking, I might add) I noticed risk-taking begins at a very early age, even before a child learns to walk! In many houses it begins with crawling and the desire to climb the stairs…and various pieces of furniture…or even visiting a relative. Of course, if we never risk falling, we would never learn to walk. Risk-taking does not end when we enter adulthood either. In fact, healthy risk-taking is an important aspect of a successful life. Hopefully, we have learned how to take wise risks, risks with a potential “pay-off” great enough to justify the risk, because of what we learned during our childhood experiences of risk.


It’s true; our ability to take wise risks is honed in childhood and adolescence, built on the foundation of minor risk-taking enjoyed throughout our growing years. Taking risks in childhood prepares us for the very real dangers of life. It teaches us what we can and cannot do, when to approach a situation with caution and when to leave well-enough alone until we have some help. Exposure to risk in childhood builds competence in decision-making and problem-solving. It leads us to develop a realistic judgment of our capabilities. By doing so, risk actually increases our ability to act safely and even avoid injury.


So, with all this benefit from risk-taking, why do we as parents jump in to protect our kids from every risk and challenge? I know we do not want them to get hurt, but some risk actually increases their ability to avoid injury in the future. Nothing teaches us the realistic limits of our body and a healthy respect for risk better than a few minor falls, skinned knees, and bruised egos. It is hard to watch our children sitting on the ground, holding a knee, and crying because they fell off their bike. But, the knee will heal and the crying will stop. The long-term lesson can last a lifetime. The lesson they gain from these experiences will depend on Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountains at sunsetour response. We can let them sit with a friend while we walk the bike back to the car and pick them up after buying them a treat to help them “feel better”…and teach them that any action with the potential of temporary hurt is not worth the risk. Or, we can help them get back on the bike and finish the ride…teaching them that they can learn and grow by persevering through wise risks. To say this in a different way, we can let our response to risk communicate that our children need constant protection…or let our response communicate that they can make age-appropriate decisions over their lives. We can allow risk to teach our children how to cross the proverbial street of life carefully and safely…or we can prevent risk in their life and keep them from ever crossing the street, content to live on one side of the street and never experience the possible growth and adventure awaiting them on the other side. We can use risk to teach our children how to engage the unstructured situations of life boldly, alert to potential dangers as they pursue their dreams…or we can respond to risk in a way that leads them to internalize a feeling of vulnerability, a fear of stepping out and experiencing the immense opportunities of life. We can release them to learn how to address problems on their own, take control of their surroundings, and adapt to the unpredictable experiences of life through their experience of risk…or, we can protect them from risk and keep them dependent, constantly seeking safety, and avoiding the unfamiliar. It all depends on your response to the inevitable risk in their life. Which lesson will you risk?

3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent

Are you protective of your children? Perhaps even a helicopter parent? Children need a parent to protect and guide them, no doubt. They need parents who will teach them right from wrong and hold them accountable to those standards. They benefit from parents that will support them and advocate for them when necessary. However, in our child-centered culture, some parents have become what many lovingly refer to as “the helicopter parent.” You know who they are…perhaps you have even played the role of a helicopter parent yourself. Unfortunately, playing the helicopter parent carries a cost for you and your children. So, are you a helicopter parent? If so, what are the costs of hovering over our children?
     ·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may find yourself structuring your children’s every waking moment. You may include yourself in their every activity. You will look for reasons to talk with them every waking moment. If they have sport’s practice or music practice, you are there to watch and encourage…every time. If they attend youth groups, you become the sponsor. If they go on a school trip, you become one of the adult chaperones. A helicopter parent’s life revolves around their children and their children’s activities. Where there child goes, the helicopter parent is sure to hover near.
       o    Children benefit from time in which they have nothing to do but play with other children—that means unstructured, unsupervised, no adults involved, creative fun. Given time for this type of play, children develop creative problem-solving skills, resilience, confidence, and the ability to manage their own time. With time away from parents, children grow more independent. They learn how to accept the support and assistance of other trustworthy adults. They build their own support group. They become better decision-makers. Interestingly, children who are provided opportunities to engage in unsupervised play even become more active than those children constantly supervised.

·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may find yourself “stepping in” to save your children from any struggle or potential disappointment. Helicopter parents, not wanting their children to make any mistakes or get a single problem wrong, step in to cajole, explain, and even make corrections saving their children from “suffering” the disappointment of a less than perfect homework assignment. If their children forget an assignment, the helicopter parent dutifully rushes it to the school. If their children begin to experience discomfort with some task, the helicopter parent swoops in to ease the pain and complete the task. No failure allowed…they reason, “It might hinder my children’s self-esteem.”
     o    Children benefit from some struggle, disappointment, and even failure. They learn how to “bounce back.” They discover their own strengths and weaknesses. They learn that momentary failure or disappointment is not the end of the world, but an opportunity to learn, grow, and persist. This leads to greater resilience and strength, persistence and fortitude. A little failure never hurt anyone…some might even say that learning to manage setbacks actually “makes the man.” Like Einstein, Edison, or Lincoln, a child who experiences momentary setbacks can achieve more than their peers who were rescued from setbacks and, as a result, never learned to persist. 

·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may want to be your child’s BFF (Best Friend Forever). Unfortunately, helicopter parents as BFF’s are governed and constrained by fear. They fear that a child’s anger will mean the friendship is broken…so they give in or argue. They try to convince their child to engage in certain behaviors, but fear to push too much and “threaten” the BFF relationship. To compensate, helicopter parents may praise their child incessantly, raving about any success, large or small. Parental BFF’s find themselves subservient to their children’s emotions.
    o    Children benefit from a BFF…but that BFF is not their parent. Children need a parent who they can “look up to” rather than see as an equal. They benefit from a parent who presents a loving, but strong authority figure they can respect…a loving authority that even produces a healthy fear of doing the wrong thing and receiving the “just penalty” for that action, whether that be a disappointed look or some stronger consequence. Of course, that relationship changes as our child grows. However, even as adult children, we respect and submit to our parent’s will out of a respect that was nurtured and taught during childhood.

Are you a helicopter parent? If you are, I’m sure you are acting out of love for your child. Take a moment to consider the truth that setting the helicopter down and parenting from a different perspective actually reveals your love in a deeper and more enduring manner. I invite you to steer over to the landing pad and park the helicopter. Pick up a few shepherding tools and begin to lead your child with the parental authority that will guide them into healthy adulthood.

Heroes: Step Aside, Competence Awaits

Several years ago, I watched a 6-year-old leaping up and down in an attempt to grab a bar and hold onto it while sliding across a low hanging beam. She had done it several times, but had now grown tired. So, she jumped and missed the bar several times. Each time she missed, she would grunt and groan…louder and louder with each failed attempt. Her father (I knew the family) walked over and offered to lift her up to grab the bar. She refused and continued to try on her own. With each attempt, her groans grew more frustrated and her uncle (who was also at the park) grew more frustrated. “Would you just help her already?” the uncle yelled from where he sat talking to another girl. But, the father did not help. He simply stood next to his daughter and offered as much support as she wanted. Within moments, the 6-year-old’s persistence paid off. She caught the bar and slid across the beam… smiling from ear to ear at her accomplishment.
On the surface this looks like a child playing in the park. Her father and uncle stood nearby: one grew increasingly frustrated and wanted to step in to solve the dilemma while the other just stood idly by offering his help if desired. But, look again. On a deeper level, this incident epitomizes the development of competence. Competence is rooted in the experience of facing and mastering challenges. It necessitates that parents learn to balance when to get out of their child’s way while she persists in some task and when to join in and solve the problem. Consider what this father communicated to his child by allowing her to persist and simply offering help instead of intruding with assistance:
·         “You can decide if you want help. You are wise enough to make that decision. You are competent to decide.”
·         “You can solve this problem and I trust your ability to do so. You are competent to do it.”
Many times parents simply have to get out of the way so a child can gain competence. We have to allow our children to figure out how to finish their own projects, completing it to their own specifications. When we step in to figure it out for them, we communicate that we do not believe in their wisdom, their creativity, or their capabilities. We save them from learning the benefit of persistence. We even teach them that they do not have to work for success, Mom and Dad will fix it instead. Our children come to believe that our actions prove they lack wisdom, creativity, and ability. They come to believe that failure is inevitable. They learn that they lack competence; that they are incompetent. That is not what we want our children to learn, but when we step in that is what we teach them. It can be difficult not step in, to let them struggle instead. Seeing our children struggling in frustration sounds our internal alarm. The “mother bear” or “protector of the house” moves in to save and protect. We have the experience that can help, the ability to make an impact, the power to make it easier for them. We can be our child’s hero. Unfortunately, acting on that impulse, becoming the hero, often leads to children who have no personal competence and a great dependency on their parents.

So, step aside. A true hero knows when to help and when to watch. Let your child figure it out. Let them struggle through the task. Even allow them to fail and, through that failure, learn how to get up, dust off, and “get back on the horse.” Let them learn that they have competence. Even more, let them learn that they are competent.